In just a few weeks it will be time for school to start. One of the biggest questions being asked is, “What steps will our school take to protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19?” Schools can determine the answer to this question in collaboration with directives from their State Department of Education and local health officials. Since not all schools are the same, recommendations may need to be adjusted or tailored to each school situation. When feasible, practical and acceptable, Christian schools should closely parallel what is happening in public schools. This helps to avoid a lot of confusion and it brings consistency in homes where students may be attending both a private and a public school.
Decisions will need to be made concerning what happens when students enter the building, traffic flow in the hallways, seating patterns in classrooms, sanitation of fixtures, books and equipment after student use, classrooms seating patterns, large class involvement such as physical education, and other specials where students may move from classroom to classroom, and how lunch periods and recess will be handled. How will school activities and sports programs be handled? Answers to these concerns will result in a host of new policies and procedures. Furthermore, timely communication with all stakeholders is the key to success. It helps avoid hearsay and stop rumors.
Students, parents, and staff are the final customers of all the policies in your school. When policies and procedures are established, there are two critical questions to consider, especially as they relate to your stakeholders.
The first question is, “Why is there a need for a policy or procedure?” In other words, what is the whole rationale behind this decision? In the current case, the answer is “to protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The second question is “Which policy decisions will be made?” The normal approach is “This is what we are going to do, and this is why we are doing it. You just need to reverse the communication. Start with WHY. Don’t assume that everyone knows the WHY. Many times, the why is often lost in the daily grind of nit-picky, policymaking. For example, the elimination of student activities. When you start with WHY, you are more likely to come up with a good strategy, policy, or procedure that truly meets the needs of the school. You are also more likely to inspire your faculty, students, and parents to believe that despite the immensity of the challenge before them, it's worth it.
Consider the following five essential issues to be addressed to help gain the support of students, parents and staff when changes are being made to existing policies and procedures, whether it be COVID-19 or any other area of issue.
1. Is there a need to change the present policy or procedures? It stands to reason that if nothing is wrong with the present policy, there is no need to change it. As you analyze the situation (for example, students in proximity as they pass in crowded hallways), you would need to show students, staff and parents, that this situation is full of potential COVID challenges and needs to be altered despite students not seeing their friends as they pass from class to class. This should be done first before you make any new policy seem desirable, such as varied dismissal times. Students may not like being able to see their friends or teachers having to adjust their schedule, but they need to understand how the new policy will help reduce COVID issues.
2. Will the proposed policy solve the need? When a policy or procedure changes, it is necessary to convince those on the receiving end of the policy that the present situation presents a challenge and that something needs to be done about it. Furthermore, you must convince the students, parents and staff that the policy that you are proposing will correct the challenge.
3. Is the proposed policy or procedure a practical one? Students and staff will want to know that the policy, although unpleasant, is practical and will not create difficulties in other areas or make things worse than before or create new challenges.
4. Is the proposed policy or procedure fair? Fairness is a big issue with students and staff. Once a policy or procedure is formulated it needs to be applied across the board so that one group is not getting a better benefit while others must sacrifice more. For example, if temperatures are to be taken of all students and staff before entering the building, this procedure needs to apply to everyone.
5. Is the proposed policy or procedure the best plan? There is always more than one way of doing things. If other solutions will accomplish the same result. they should be considered.
Not only will these five questions help in dealing with health-related concerns, but they can also be applied to any situation where a new policy or procedure is being considered.